Open discrimination still exists in this country, maybe not on the basis of ethnicity, gender, or, to a certain extent, sexual orientation, but instead discrimination on the basis of a lack in belief in God. This is the most widely accepted and least talked about form of discrimination that still exists in this country.
In memoriam of the Bangladeshi Bloggers, a group of secularists and freethinkers who were executed in Bangladesh simply for expressing their views over the internet, we need to look in the mirror and examine our own treatment of atheists in this country. Though we don’t go so far as to murder those who don’t believe, there is still a lot of unopposed bigotry geared towards atheists.
First, to clear up a few misconceptions, Atheists are not just Godless heathens running around burning buildings, robbing stores, and punching old ladies, instead they are just regular folks like you and me. In fact, they may be more common than you might think. In a poll conducted by Pew Research, 22.8% of American adults identified as atheist, agnostic, or religiously indifferent in 2014, meaning roughly 1 in 5 people identify as either atheist, agnostic, or unaffiliated. So, odds are, if you regularly interact with more than five people on a daily basis, then you’ve likely encountered more than a few secularists,who are regular moral people just like anyone else, you’d never know the difference.
Despite accounting for one fifth of the population, however, there remains this ignominy towards atheists that very few in this country are discussing nor actively fighting against. For example,seven different states, Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas, all have official state laws that bar atheists from holding public office. This is most succinctly put by Article 6, Section 8 of the North Carolina Legislature:
The following persons shall be disqualified for office: Any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.
Luckily, this statute is superceded by the “No Religious Test Clause” of the United States Constitution and an atheist CAN, in fact, hold public office, but it’s the sentiment behind these laws that’s unacceptable. Insert any race, nationality, or religious group into this clause and you will soon discover how bigoted and absurd these laws are, and how quickly they fall apart. For instance:
The following persons shall be disqualified for office: Any person who is of a brown skin tone.
The following persons shall be disqualified for office: Any person who is of the Jewish faith.
or (in a twist of irony):
The following persons shall be disqualified for office: Any White, property owning, male.
The intolerance doesn’t stop there, however, it actually manifests in the highest echelons of public office.
Speaking at the National Religious Liberties Conference in Des Moines, Iowa, United States Senator and Presidential candidate Ted Cruz, at the time, had the follow to say about a secularist in the White House:
Any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief of this country.
Ironically, most rational people would, hopefully, would want a president who doesn’t need the approval of his imaginary friend to make his own decisions, especially when those decisions could affect the entire country or world, nor would they want that same borderline Schizophrenic man in possession of the nuclear launch codes. Even more ironic is how ignorant Mr. Cruz is about the very document he claims to cherish so much. To make this easy, I’ll even point out where it explicitly says in the Constitution that you cannot have a religious test for office: Article VI, Clause 3, “No Religious Test Clause”, although I highly recommend reading the entire document, it’s, truly, a great read. There is even dispute in a controversial interview, then presidential candidate, George H. W. Bush said,”No, I don’t believe that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots, this is one nation under God.” There is speculation that he even said this at all, so take this with a grain of salt, but the fact that this claim has yet to be outright denied is a bit unsettling.
This type of persecution exists even in the court of public opinion. There has only ever been one Congressman to open admit their atheism while holding office. That man, Pete Stark (D-CA), served in the House of Representatives for 40 years, 1972-2012, but didn’t feel comfortable to come out until 2007. Indeed, Barney Frank felt more comfortable coming out as gay in 1987 than he did coming out as an atheist, which he did after leaving office in 2013. This line from the Huffington Post perfectly sums up the point of this article and the anti secularist sentiment that exists in this country today:
That Frank felt more comfortable going public with his sexuality in 1987 than he did with his secular beliefs at any point during his House career says a lot about the stigma surrounding atheism in electoral politics.
There is hope however, in a 2015 Gallup Poll 58% of Americans said they would vote for an atheist for president, second to only 47% saying they would vote for a socialist. Meaning, an atheist would have a higher favorability in a general election than a socialist, but lower than a black Muslim woman.
This mentality even leaks into our, allegedly, secular school systems. For example, the assistant principal of Pisgah High School in Canton, North Carolina repeatedly denied requests for students to open a chapter of the Secular Student Alliance at the school, until the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union stepped in. The Antelope Valley Union High School District denied students the option to apply for a $1,750 scholarship, the prompt was writing about their experience being an atheist in Antelope Valley, while simultaneously allowing students to apply for similar religious scholarships. There has since been a lawsuit filed against the school. At Forest Park Elementary School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a second grader was forced to sit in isolation at lunch for three days simply for saying he didn’t believe in God…..a second grader. Again, the ACLU stepped in and filed a suit. These examples are endless and it truly amazes me that the same people that claim to stand for Constitutional principles can be this ignorant of what the Constitution says, the president its founders created, or the impressive level of selective reading and listening they possess.
In spite of all this I would just like to take a second to apologize to the 70% of the American population that is Christian, who will, likely, get offended and feel persecuted by this piece and who have their own nationally recognized holidays, tax exempt status for their churches, their own TV and radio programs, and a 100% success rate in nominating and electing US presidents. We are sorry for, falsely, feeling demonized, you are the one who are truly unfavorable in this country with all the representation, scholarships, TV slots, airwave time, and advertisement you are denied.